UPFRONT Drawing on collective strengths

If you think that doodling in meetings is waste of time, think again. Bruce Holland, founder of Virtual Group Business Specialists, argues that art can unleash some of the collective strength of an organisation’s workforce.
Holland acknowledges that the link between art and organisational innovation is not always popular topic as managers “trapped in industrial age thinking” struggle to cotton on to its relevance. “People become very uncomfortable when we talk about creativity and innovation,” he notes. Yet techniques based on drawing, rather than using words, for example, can help business people come up with ideas that they didn’t think were in the organisation.
Holland, who describes himself as an organisational architect, says he is keen to “help create spaces where people can contribute together”. In his view, old-style organisational thinking focused on traditional management hierarchies, creates “silos of power and separation” rather than more useful and productive places for connection and collaboration.
“Instead of using words, drawing can evoke very powerful images – which then translate into words,” he says. “Often, the ideas that result are very different and much more powerful than if the person had worked solely in words.”
Holland, whose left-brained clients have included investment bankers and auditors, says groups often surprise themselves with what comes out of the process. “But,” he adds, “people need to experience the process rather than understand it.”
Writing in recent newsletter, Holland says that the use of drawing techniques flavours his approach to strategy: including the need for balance between creativity and analysis, systems approaches that show the interrelationships and linkages within the system, and appreciative inquiry that searches out the good and amplifies it.
“I have found art to be wonderful tool to develop strategic thinking and creativity because it not only helps organisations ‘see’ the positive forms of the images and patterns that are in front of them, but also the negative forms that are missing. It helps them perceive the relationships and proportions of the problem, including the things that don’t change or can’t change. They become better at perceiving the lights and shadows and the edges of problem.”
In any great work of art, he notes, it is not what is painted but what is left unpainted that holds the power. “This idea translates into business too. What’s not there?”
It is vital to get people to accept that words are quite limiting, he says. This is especially the case when group of people use solely words to describe an important idea such as the organisation’s vision statement which often “pales down” as result. Instead, by taking words right out of the equation in the initial stages of the process, organisations will produce far stronger and more meaningful result.
Initially trained in the left-brain world of accounting, Holland’s first introduction to drawing was through Betty Edwards’ famous book Drawing on the right side of the brain. “It taught me to ‘see’ what was before me rather than what my left brain thought was there,” he says.
“The big gap in New Zealand business is on the innovation side and much of my work comes from people who want to make their organisations more innovative.”

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